The heart of the city, Old Riga, is like stepping into a fairy-tale kingdom, with its winding cobblestone streets, ornate buildings, and spired churches. It has a subdued atmosphere, even the rustle and chatter of groups seems to float placidly in the breeze.
Certain buildings call for attention for assorted reasons; some involve being regaled by their stories. The impressive House of Blackheads was once owned by the Guild of Unmarried Merchants…and was none too shabby an abode for these 14th century German traders (of the powerful Hanseatic League) to hang their hats. It was reincarnated from the ashes of WWII destruction to its original Dutch Renaissance design.
Nearby is another old Guild House for wealthy tradesmen and craftsmen. The building known as the Cat House is directly across the street, and indeed has two black felines on its roof. The story goes the Guild hierarchy, back in the day, exiled the owner of this building from belonging to their prestigious ranks. What did he do? He ordered the cats to be turned with their hind-ends (and tails up, no less) towards the Guild House. Not sure if this snub had anything to do with it, but he was later allowed membership, and the cats faces (which I think have a definite smirk) were swung around towards the Guild.
Our Riga Latvia Photo Gallery
St. Peter’s Church is a Gothic eye-full in red brick with a greyish stone façade decorated with statues. First built from timber in 1209, then later in stone, its Bell Tower was seemingly jinxed with a series of burning/collapsing, the last restoration being 1973. The usual adjectives to describe a church are malapropos. This church has “a presence” like a stern father looking down – especially with us looking up at it from our daily cappuccino spot, Double Coffee, which is just to one side of it.
A curious crowd-gatherer is a square brick stand with a menagerie of metal animals on the rim placed one on top of the other – a rooster at the top stands on a cat, which stands on a dog, which stands on a pig. Young and old alike take turns shimmying near the worn-shiny noses of the animals – then taking an athletic leap hoping to touch the highest nose – I’m thinking the higher the nose touched the more luck it brings.
Of the street performers gracing Old Riga , the winner hands-down is this violin sensation!
The Powder Tower built for fortification in 1330 was destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. It became a storage place for gunpowder and cannon balls during the 17th century, and all I can say is it could hold a heck of a lot of ammo! It is now a war museum.
It is onto Central Riga for a day. We pass the Freedom Monument, locally known as “Milda”, a goddess of love and freedom from Latvian folklore. The monument stands where a statue of Russian ruler Peter the Great once was.
It is onward to the streets of Elizabetes and Alberta for some Art Nouveau. Central Riga boasts one of the largest collections of these edifices in Europe. This flamboyant style of architecture spread in popularity throughout Europe at the turn of the 20th century – their haunting facades rife with nightmarish gargoyles, graceful goddesses, mythological creatures, creeping vines and bursts of flowers.
We are magnetically pulled to the five massive Zeppelin hangers, known as the city’s Central Market. Four are joined together with the fifth standing alone. Jostling along with the crowds, we pass through the mammoth sections that segue from fruit and vegetables, cheeses, breads, meat, fish, clothing – over 3000 trade stands rent space here! We wonder when Zeppelins rolled out of these now closed-off gigantic doors…and are surprised to learn these hangers never saw one of these German invented motorized dirigibles. These hangers were built between 1924 and 1930 during German occupation for farmers forced to bring in their goods to feed the German army; also at one point two of the hangers were used for vehicle engine repairs. Then later under Soviet occupation they were depots for goods to be brought under the imposed “agriculture collectivism”. It is now a place for the locals to buy reasonably priced product.
The sighting of a spire just beyond the market entices us for a closer look. No, it is not a church as we thought, but the Academy of Science (also known as Stalin’s Birthday Cake, for its likeness to buildings constructed in Russia during the Stalin-era).
Lapping Up Latvia Treats
Fisherman’s Son (Zvejnieka Dêls) seems like the place! Although other cuisines are on the menu, there are little markings beside the traditional Latvian dishes.
We decide on two entrees to share. Fried Tench Fish – in a sweet and sour marinade with green beans and tartar sauce. Salty, tangy and very tasty! I thought perhaps “tench” was a typo, but a Google search sums it up as “a European freshwater game fish”. When cooked its soft lacy bones are eaten with the flesh. Our second choice is birch-sap poached fillet of Sturgeon, with potato dill mouse and whipped sparkling wine cream sauce. Light and delicious, and the sauce is one to mop up with black bread…between sips of fine local micro-brewed beer.
Since there is only one desert marked traditional, we order one each (I’m never keen on sharing a desert, and it’s my Birthday after all). Goat cheese cake with rhubarb sorbet and honey caramel. Yes!..a delight for gods and goddesses (even Milda), and us!
Time marches on, and before long it’s time to leave Riga, a laid-back place to check out the sites, glean the history, people watch and to just wander the days away.
Our next stop will be Vilnius Lithuania by bus.
Rick, my finance minister’s smile is broadening in tandem with our shrinking travel costs – for accommodations, food, entertainment, travel he reports Latvia coming in at $145 CDN a day.
For bus travel throughout the Baltics Lux Express
Mercure Hotel Riga